Legal Eagle: Can you avoid a drink driving rap by sleeping in your car?

It’s a rare sunny afternoon and you want to take advantage of the weather before it disappears until next year.

A few drinks at the nearest beer garden sounds good so you set off in your car with every intention of having just one or two drinks so you can drive home.

Before you realise it, you’re five pints in and cannot drive so what do you do – take a taxi and come back the next day for your car or sleep it off in your vehicle and then drive home?

MM have teamed up with Olliers Solicitors, a leading criminal law firm based in Manchester, to answer your questions.


Hello Olliers Solicitors and Mancunian Matters,

I was hoping you could help me answer this question for your Legal Eagle articles.

After night out in the pub with friends, sometimes one of my mates will go to sleep in his car rather than walking home.  He never drives drunk, he just snoozes while sat in the front seat.

Is this illegal and, if so, what punishment could he face?


No doubt that opinion on this are probably split with some of you opting for a taxi – but an equal number deciding to sleep it off.

Motorists all over the world have the same boozy thought process – but what many UK residents do not realise is that they may be committing a criminal offence by opting for the latter.

If you were spotted by a police officer, you would almost certainly be breathalysed and arrested.

Under the Road Traffic Act 1988 it is an offence to be drunk ‘in-charge’ of a vehicle or ‘in charge’ of a vehicle while ‘unfit through drink or drugs’. While the penalties are not quite as strict as those for drink driving, these offences can often still result in a disqualification and a hefty fine.

The definition of ‘in charge’ is often open to interpretation, however, you would still be considered to be ‘in charge’ of a vehicle  if you are sleeping in the back seat with the engine off, out on the pavement or even when supervising a provisional driver and not actually driving the car yourself!

At Olliers, we have dealt with a countless number of clients who think they’re doing the sensible thing by sleeping in their car and, while it is certainly preferable to driving, there is always going to be a danger that you are still over the limit when you wake up and decide to drive.

For drunk ‘in charge’ offences, the officers would need to take a sample to show that you were above the prescribed limit (either breath, blood or urine).

However, with an allegation of being unfit while in charge, such a sample is not always necessary but the officer would likely need some evidence of impairment as a result of either drink or drugs.

This may see them ask the driver to go through some impairments tests at the roadside, such as checking if pupils are dilated, asking you to stand on one leg while counting or walking in a straight line.

The minimum penalty for either of these offences is ten penalty points, however, in a lot of cases, the court will impose a disqualification.

Even in cases where a ban isn’t imposed, the ten penalty points can cause difficulty if this means their total will number 12 or more as they could then face disqualification for six months as part of a totting-up process.

There are various ways to defend such allegations as many arguments may relinquish a driver from being ‘in charge’.

There is also a defence in law if you can prove that you had no intention of driving the vehicle while over the limit – but this is no quick get-out clause.

If anyone is ever charged with such an offence we would strongly recommend seeking expert legal advice as there may be a number of options available to you.

That said, the simplest solution is always to leave your car at home and don’t take the risk if there is any doubt.

Do you have a question for the legal team at Olliers Solicitors? 

Their specialist criminal lawyers – including a specialist motor law department – are ready to answer your questions for FREE. All you have to do is email them in to our newsdesk here: newsdesk (at) mancunianmatters (dot) co (dot) uk

You can find more about Olliers Solicitors here.

Image courtesy of Steve Janofsky with thanks

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